Twitter went into “hardcore” mode. Its new owner, multi-billionaire Elon Musk, asked the employees of the social network to give body and soul to the company. Or, if not, look elsewhere. An ultimatum to make a final choice in its workforce that has been restructured since its incredible acquisition last month. The Tesla boss himself also wanted to check the strength of the remaining troops. Engineers had to rush to provide copies of their work – often computer code to keep the network running, secure, or add new features. In tech, this type of testing is known. This makes it possible to identify those who are called low performersworkers are judged as “worst performers”.
The economic crisis is currently used as a justification for this practice. According to the site layoffs.fyi, which lists tech layoff plans, the fall in advertising revenue and funding has already led to the loss of 140,000 jobs in the sector, including more than 45,000 for the current month. Unheard of since the crisis of the “dotcom” bubble of the year 2000. And the count is far from over.
On Google, around 10,000 people are currently targeted by this classification of low performers depending on the website the information, that is, about 6% of the current workforce. The same media revealed, this summer, a similar situation with Meta (ex-Facebook), which separated 11,000 people. This is mainly related to engineering or developer positions. “Every manager should think about every person on their team and the value they bring,” wrote Maher Saba, an engineering manager at the giant, in an internal message. “If a direct report spells or underperforms, they’re not what we need; they’re failing the business.” The search for the undesirables now awaits Amazon, which recently announced the departure of 10,000 employees. According to a series of Slack messages leaked by Business Insider Friday, the e-commerce leader pressed the managers of some of its divisions to quickly find “URAs”, to unrepentant attrition (“unrepentant departure”).
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A backlash from too much technology?
There are several methods. Musk’s brutal method was to print out thousands of pages of code and send them to his superior, as a student would return a copy to his professor. But, more often, today’s Big Tech companies have theirs performance improvement program (PIP) to monitor the performance of their employees. This plan, spread over several weeks or months, puts the employee to the test in assignments and interviews. Sometimes, PIP can “save” him, or act on his reclassification to another service. A happy ending seems far out of the ordinary. “A PIP, in most cases, is really legal cover to prevent the company from being sued when an employee is fired, far from the supposed noble intention of bringing about an ‘improvement’ in behavior”, wrote in 2019 a tech blogger testifying for some of his friends and acquaintances who went through this ordeal. “A PIP is the ultimate failure, a version of the software engineer put in front of a firing squad.”
This approach, harsh at first glance, is also seen as a backlash from the heyday of tech. “Like many other companies in a zero-rate world – Meta has drifted into the land of excess – too many people, too many ideas, too little urgency”, dramatically entrusted to Bloomberg Brad Gerstner, of Altimeter fund, shareholder of the company managed by Mark Zuckerberg. It’s a fact: when tech works well, it catches on. A lot. To meet the explosion in demand, Amazon doubled its workforce [voir notre infographie] between the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2022, growing from nearly 800,000 employees to 1.6 million. Same order of magnitude as Meta. More broadly, the significant growth of these companies over the past 10 years has made it possible for their staff to grow. For the best qualified positions and the most experienced profiles, salaries can reach more than 500,000 dollars per year.
Enough to produce some sneers, like that of the engineer-millionaire sipping cocktails on the roof of his company, under the beautiful California sun; an image popularized by Silicon Valley, a series with a cynical tone towards the tech world (and its emblematic place). An article by Business Insider, published in 2017, without pouring into this caricature, still told the daily life of these people who took full advantage of this golden age. “Most of my friends at Google work four hours a day. They are seasoned engineers (…) so they optimize the performance cycles of their own work,” described a source. Others are strolling around, with no specific work to do. A “gland” culture that many have thought about in recent days through the many resignations on Twitter, which occurred with the announcement of Elon Musk’s ultimatum.
Myth or truth? It’s hard to know, as the labor market in the area remains dynamic. TikTok, in full acceleration, plans in particular to double its workforce. According to some tech employment specialists, the social network draws, within Valley, directly to the layoffs made by its competitors to strengthen. Among them, no doubt, is low performers from Meta, Google or Twitter.
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